Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior has caused its own little firestorm by announcing a ban on some 50 names that are not to be given to children, Gulf News reports. The ban, issued as a fatwa by some anonymous cleric, is a peculiar one. Some names are banned as being against religious principle; others because they’re foreign. The reason why yet others are banned — like Benyamin (Arabic for ‘Benjamin’) is simply baffling.

Saudi Arabia bans 50 baby names

Dubai: Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry has banned 50 given names including “foreign” names, names related to royalty and those it considers to be blasphemous.

Saudis will no longer be able to give their children names such as Amir (prince), Linda or Abdul Nabi (Slave of the Prophet) after the civil affairs department at the ministry issued the list, according to Saudi news sites.

It justified the ban by saying that the names either contradicted the culture or religion of the kingdom, or were foreign, or “inappropriate”.

The names fit into at least three categories: those that offend perceived religious sensibilities, those that are affiliated to royalty and those that are of non-Arabic or non-Islamic origin.

Gulf News reports, too, that a member of the Shoura Council, Eisa Al Gaith, isn’t having it. Fatwas are not public laws, he says. A fatwa — a non-binding religious ruling — should not be elevated to the law of the land. According to the follow-up story, large numbers of Saudis agree with him, seeing no reason for the government to be poking its nose into family matters.

Shura Council member rejects ban on baby names
Habib Toumi Bureau Chief

Manama: A member of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council has denounced the decision by the civil authorities to ban 50 baby names on the grounds they clashed with the local culture or were inappropriate.

“The decision by the mufti on the names is an interpretation, so if he is right it is good for him and for those who follow him, but it cannot be imposed on others,” Eisa Al Ghaith said. “There is a serious issue when an interpretation which is just an opinion becomes an obligation for government agencies and for the people. A commitment becomes official only when there is a religious consensus about it. However, if there is no full agreement, there can be no obligation,” he said in remarks published by local daily Al Sharq on Sunday.

Civil authorities last week announced a list of 50 names that cannot be given to new babies, saying that they were alien to the local culture or offended religious sensibilities or were of non-Arabic or non-Islamic origin.

Several people said they were bewildered by the inclusion of some of the names on the list, particularly that they have traditionally been part of the local scene for decades.

UPDATE: I should note that banning names isn’t just some oddball Saudi thing. Portugal has an 80-page list of banned names. The Mexican state of Sonora published a list of 61 names that were impermissible last month. Denmark, instead of a blacklist, has a whitelist from which children’s names must be selected.

UPDATE: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior denies it ever published a list in the first place, but added that religiously or socially improper names, as well as compound names would not be registered in official documents at birth.

Civil Affairs denies banning baby names


March:16:2014 - 07:26 | Comments & Trackbacks (5) | Permalink
5 Responses to ““O! Be Some Other Name””
  1. 1
    Sandy Said:
    March:16:2014 - 12:27 

    The article I read said that “Binyamin” is banned because of Benjamin Netanyahu. Could be true. Its a funny list- some very commen names like “Iman” and “Bayan” and some random ones like “Alice” and “Elaine”!

  2. 2
    John Burgess Said:
    March:16:2014 - 14:02 

    @Sandy: Could it be true? We’re talking about the KSA here… of course it could be true. And it makes absolutely no sense. On that basis, you’d also have to ban Yakoub, Moussa, and a whole bunch of others as they all have Hebrew and Christian cognates. Benyamin shows up in the Quran very favorably.

    As for ‘foreign’ names, well the KSA wouldn’t be alone in this. A surprisingly large number of European countries have official name lists and bar those names not found on them.

  3. 3
    Sandy Said:
    March:16:2014 - 23:56 

    Actually I think it is personal against Netanyahu. So the other Hebrew names are fine. It still makes no sense though. And I would understand if they made a rule against foreign names-which I think they already have. Especially for boys. You are far more likely to meet a Saudi woman with a foreign name. I just find it interesting that these seemingly random ones have been selected. Why Alice? and not Ellen? My guess is whoever made this list knew of women with those names.

  4. 4
    John Burgess Said:
    March:17:2014 - 08:09 

    @Sandy: I think the list is utterly idiosyncratic.

  5. 5
    Solomon2 Said:
    March:21:2014 - 13:27 

    “A surprisingly large number of European countries have official name lists and bar those names not found on them.”

    Such laws seem to date back hundreds of years, their purpose being to suppress pretenders to royal or noble titles. I recall the case of one American couple working in Britain who wanted to name their newborn daughter “Princess”. The British refused, and the enforcers were a branch of the police who work to maintain royal privileges.

    Naturally, once America became independent and rejected the ideas of nobility or royalty, it made no sense for the newly-independent States to have such laws at all.

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